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Five days on Camino del Norte: Bilbao - Santander

Pierre Julian

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances, Ingles, VdP, San Salvador, Aragonese, sections of Northern, Portuguese, Mozarabic.
I landed in Bilbao at the end of May having made a sudden decision to to have four days walking on the Camino, with a day either side for travelling. It was all the time I could take from work, the Camino was calling, and Bilbao was the cheapest airport to get to at that time from London.

I wasn't even sure which route to take when I arrived, but in the morning, got chatting to another pilgrim, and decided to walk the Northern Camino - very spontaneous. I walked Bilbao to Santander in 4 days, in retrospect probably a bit rushed, and I took a couple of walking short cuts, and got quite lost at times, but still a wonderful taster of the Northern Camino.

I've walked all the C de F, and one section of it twice. The section of the Northern Camino I did was very different. I think that to go expecting it to be just like the French Camino could lead to discouragement!
Here are some things that I learnt:
  • Markers and signs on the C del N are not often or obvious. I often walked for hours without seeing a yellow arrow, and then there were suddenly 20 in quick succession.
  • Locals do not seem to be much aware of the Camino and when asked - do a lot of speaking and pointing, but it doesn't seem to help much. They are very friendly and kind though.
  • Be prepared to get lost several times as part of the adventure. There are many, many walking track options in each section, which can also add to the confusion, but also make it very varied.
  • There are not so many albergues and they tend to cost a bit more.
  • There are not so many pilgrims, and my friends and I were often walking alone. Not many pilgrim menus, and food can cost a bit more.
  • The German guide book seemed to be quite comprehensive. I had no guide book, (except the one I downloaded from the tourist office, which is quite basic). I would say, always take some kind of a guide book with maps - to save losing time, getting lost and confused!

Here are some thoughts which may help if you are thinking of doing this section.

  • Bilbao airport - very easy to manage. Regular cheap bus service into Bilbao bus station with a few stops on the way.
  • Great albergue in Bilbao called Pil Pil Hostel, Av. Sabino Arana 14, Bilbao, 48014, Spain, Phone: +34944345544. Easy to book on line, or just turn up (out of season). Very close to bus station, centre of city, and Camino route. Staff very friendly and helpful. Very clean and comfortable albergue - type accommodation, good breakfast. Little expensive as Albergues go, but not too bad.
  • Bilbao is a beautiful city and certainly worth a good look around.
Day 1 of walking: Bilbao to Pobeña.
  • Some people skip the route out of Bilbao by taking the underground to Portugalete. Don't do that because the old docks, river suburbs ruined industrial sights and warehouses are amazing. I walked past the Guggenheim, crossed the bridge and along the northern bank. A bit quicker and more picturesque than the route along the south (according to locals). Plus you get to cross the amazing Viskaya Bridge later on.
  • a few bars and shops along the way, plenty of photo opportunities.
  • Crossing the Viskaya Bridge into Portugalete is wonderful. Be careful after though, because directions are hard to find, I got very lost in this town, which was great, because it's a lovely town.
  • Watch out in the town of Gallarta, we spent about 2 hours walking in circles, and my friends headed off in a bus, because it was so difficult. Yellow arrows just seem to run out. Walk through the town and get to the N634: El Casal Auzoa. It crosses one of the red route cycle tracks. You need to follow the red route off to the left (once you get down there, you see the yellow arrow!), from there its a beautiful walk to the seaside.
  • Larena, incredible beach.
  • My first night was at Pobeña. It has a donativo hostel, which charges around 7 Euros according to my friends!!! I was running late because of getting lost and enjoying myself, my friends got there before me and got a bed. I arrived at 10pm just as they were closing, the volunteers had kindly waited for me, but wanted to take my gear and put me in bed straightaway! I was hungry so chose to go to the bar nearby, and slept in the bus shelter there. Quite comfortable and safe - but bring insect repellant, lots of mosquitoes!
Day 2 of walking: Pobeña - Islares
  • Mixture of walking close to highways, and along coastal tracks.
  • Mioño has a wonderful beach, and worth a stay. Great bar with outdoor area looking accross bay, leading out of town, as with many bars on the Northern Camino, it was very expensive, but relaxing.
  • Castro Urdiales, lovely town and beach. We walked past an albergue there.
  • I stayed at the albergue at Islares. Small, clean, insufficient showers and toilets. Breakfast finished well before advertised time. The man in charge there was intent on telling everyone that the albergue in the next town was rubbish. In the end I was too tired to walk much further and stayed. They have tents out the back though, with mattresses. A great option, quiet, comfortable, cheaper and fun. Another lovely beach a little further down the main road with bars and pilgrims menus which were quite expensive, but good food and service.
Day 3 of walking: Islares - Santoña
  • Another day with many walking track options. We chose to follow the section past Villanueva and the St Julian Hermitage - beautiful ruins.
  • The views of mountains and coast after St Julian's are splendid. Take time to leave the Camino to look at views. At the top of the high hills are marvellous views across Laredo. Climb to the higher rocks with the makeshift flag for great photos and views. At this stage yellow arrows seem to run out and we ended up having to cross farms and hop fences until we found a road into Laredo, which took us past the beautiful ancient church (which was closed - as usual) and down to the beach.
  • Laredo is idyllic. It's long sandy beach was marvellous to paddle along with back packs, and at the end is a wonderful boat crossing to Santoña. If I had had time I would have stayed a couple of days in Laredo.
  • We ate late lunch in Laredo at Bogeda la Casona in Calle Raimundo Revilla, which I wish I could eat at every day. It was packed full of locals, no tourists (but us)! Incredible 3 course meal with wine and extra salad. Great to do before walking the beach.
  • On the boat crossing we were given a flyer for Pension Miramar in Calle General Santiago 23. Phone 639 667 390. We weren't sure about it, but went there, phoned them and a woman came who showed us around. Very clean rooms, and bathrooms, so a bit of a treat. About the same price as an albergue especially as two of us shared. No cooking facilities, but a good little pension. Great town with plenty of bars, beach areas etc.
Day 5 Santoña - Santander.
  • I realised my time was running out, and needed to get to Santander in order to get back to Bilbao for my flight next day. So I chose the shortest route, which was probably the least scenic, along the CA141 which went directly to Somo. Nevertheless I enjoyed it. Some great little towns and countryside.
  • Somo by the coast is wonderful, and I would go back there again easily.
  • Another boat crossing into Santander which was wonderful.
  • I didn't have much time in Santander once I realised the trains are very infrequent. So I got on one of the wonderful cheap Spanish buses and headed back to Bilbao and stayed my last night in Albergue Pil Pil.
 
Last edited:

Tutleymutley

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino de Portuguese; Los Caminos del Norte
Very useful information! I'm on a bicycle and have completed the Camino Portuguese and have been following the Camino del Norte backwards from Santiago - that's a lot of fun and, like you, I have enjoyed getting lost several times. I have limited time left before I catch the ferry home from Santander so have been pondering options. After reading this, I've made my mind up: I will spend the next two days cycling to Oviedo, then catch a train to Bilbao. Then I plan to follow your route and pedal the RIGHT way along the Camino from Bilbao to Santander (for the end of a wonderful adventure). Thanks for taking the time to write this.
 

dreampainter

New Member
Thanks for writing this. I'm hoping to walk tomorrow from Santander [or the next little town on the coast] to Bilbao. I've been told by some people that it's a difficult route, i've also been told that it's quite easy walking and the photos i've been shown seem to show that. Apart from the getting lost, would you say it's difficult from the walking perspective - i.e. up/down or mostly on the flat. mochas gracias, karen
 

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